Being able to see the big picture is key, says Seema Tiwari, Head – CSR, Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd

Interview with Seema Tiwari for India CSR Leadership Series with Nayan Mitra.

MUMBAI: India CSR Leadership Series with Nayan Mitra is humbled to share with its audience the interview with Seema Tiwari of Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd. She shares with us her thoughts on a plethora of subjects – ranging from how CSR is different in developed countries vis-a-vis emerging economies, to the choice of implementation partners, to qualities of a CSR personnel and many more.

Do you think the concept of CSR is different in emerging countries from that of developed countries? Why?

The rising importance of CSR in the corporate agenda implies a growing understanding of the contribution of CSR to corporate reputation and business performance. A corporation practising CSR could present itself as a transparent, responsible and accountable firm that addresses the necessary concerns of society and environment. However, divergence on policies and practices of CSR between developed and developing countries are evident.

Developed countries have embedded CSR into their business lexicon. But the range of models and frameworks of CSR practices vary from country to country as the societal needs vary in different countries.

In the developed countries social security to a considerable extent is being provided by the government. Hence, it is observed that there has been significant growth in triple bottom-line initiatives that are being taken forward, specially to mitigate climate change.

In developing countries, we rarely find shared value initiatives being taken forward as the traditional practice of doing good by writing cheques continues.  While there are different models being followed, there is no defined CSR framework that exists. Hence, there is an observable gap between developed and developing countries with regards to CSR practices.

What, to you, are the various challenges that India faces in its CSR space?

The success of CSR lies in practicing it as a core part of a company’s development strategy. It is important for the corporate sector to identify, promote and implement successful policies and practices that achieve triple bottom-line results. Most companies treat CSR as a peripheral issue for their business. The practical implementation of CSR is faced with a lot of issues and challenges. There is a lack of consensus amongst local agencies regarding CSR projects which often results in duplication of activities by corporate houses in areas of their intervention. This could result in a conflict between local implementing agencies rather than taking a collaborative approach on issues. There is also a lack of interest in the local community in participating and contributing to CSR activities of companies. It is also reported that there is non-availability of well-organized non-governmental organizations in remote and rural areas that can assess and identify the real needs of the community and work along with companies to ensure successful implementation of CSR activities.

How can one overcome them?

There are numerous CSR models currently being tried and tested resulting in tremendous learning for one and all. To my mind, community sustainability can be achieved if we take a shared value approach that creates a win-win situation benefitting both the community and industry. Also, there needs to be deeper engagement and collaboration between industries and the Government to work in scale to create a greater impact. Lastly, one needs to take a leap from writing cheques to impact investing and mentoring for sustenance of social enterprises.

What is your opinion of the CSR mandate as passed by the Companies Act, 2013?

The CSR legislation has acted as a catalyst to deepen the industry’s social development engagement and to a certain extent has been successful in making it a critical part of the agenda of a company. Currently, while numerous CSR models are being tried and tested, the shared value approach creates a win-win situation benefitting both the community and industry and is one of the most effective, impactful and sustainable models. Also, it is increasingly recognized that local solutions are the key to solving global problems. Therefore, industries need to partner with each other and the Government to build a shared vision on community sustainability, to optimally utilize the resources and to avoid duplication of efforts. Therefore, the passage of the Companies Act 2013 should be hailed as a positive step towards ensuring that business contributes to equitable and sustainable economic development.

Tell us about one of your key CSR programmes?

Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co Ltd (G&B) is committed to sustainable business development and has been a responsible corporate citizen over the past many decades. In 2011, Godrej formally adopted an overarching CSR strategy called Good and Green with a vision and goal to make social and environment investments while building a greener and more inclusive India by adoption of a shared value approach. The ‘Good’ refers to activities that identify and meet the needs of the population which has been hitherto underserved. The ‘Green’ refers to activities that will conserve the environment and foster a greener India. This implies the development of profitable business strategies that deliver tangible social benefits. As part of Good & Green, G&B aspires to achieve three goals by 2020. The company intends to Ensure Employability wherein it shall train one million rural and urban youth in skills that will enhance their earning potential. It also focuses on Greener India, underwhich it aims to achieve zero waste to landfill, carbon neutrality and a positive water balance, while reducing specific energy consumption and optimising the use of renewable energy. The third goal of the Good & Green initiative is Product Innovation.

G&B is proud of initiating Godrej Disha, a flagship skill training program for underserved youth whereby the company has trained more than one lakh candidates in the last six years along with its partners. The company offers subsidized training and the response from youth across various centres in India has been tremendous. While training is executed by partners, G&B provides support in the form of technical know-how, industry exposure visits for candidates, guest lectures by subject experts, world class training infrastructure set-up and viability gap funding. As a company, Godrej & Boyce has an unwavering belief in gender equality and hence offers various initiatives for women capacity building. Under the Disha employability program, G&B has organized training for women under various sectors and has already trained 400 women. Recently, the Material Handling business unit organized a series of training programs to train women as fork lift operators. The course commenced as a gender equality initiative towards encouraging more women into the manufacturing sector.

After completing more than 5 years in Godrej Disha initiative, we conducted an impact study and found that our initiative had resulted in an increase of Rs. 100 per day in the income of these youth and an overall economic value addition to the community is 30 times more. This program has helped not only the individual and spurred economic development of the community but has also contributed to our country’s GDP. Beneficiaries have achieved greater financial security and hence the training by Disha made the required impact on rural and urban youth.

Who are your partners? How do you choose them?

Godrej & Boyce has devised robust CSR governance inhouse to plan, monitor and execute CSR projects at scale. We have a thorough due diligence process to get a CSR partner on board. There are different evaluation criteria, the most important one being alignment of our values. Location visits for the assessment of their work and gauging the impact on the communities is a critical step in the process of evaluation.

Most of our CSR programs are executed together with our partners. For the Disha program we have partnered with 30 reputed institutes and 51 ITIs across India. Gram Tarang in Odisha and Punjab, Don Bosco India in Maharashtra and West Bengal, Father Agnel Institute in Maharashtra, Myrada in Karnataka, Little Flower Engineering Institute in Kerala are some of our key partners who are conducting vocational skill programs with a lot of passion and dedication. For community development we have partnered with 20 organizations. Watershed Organization Trust is our key partner to execute integrated community development initiatives with a special focus on women empowerment and access to water. Other partners include Navneet Education, Ankidyne, Ethica Strategy, Grassroutes, etc. Apart from partnering with NGOs and social enterprises, we have also partnered with Skilling Ministry of Government of Maharashtra and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to promote women entrepreneurship in Maharashtra.  We have also signed an MoU with NABARD under which we are currently exploring integrated watershed management and micro enterprise projects.

What do you look in a person when you recruit him/her in the CSR team of the Company?

Given the mandatory CSR policy, the demand for CSR professionals to spearhead the CSR programs and activities of the companies is on the rise. Companies are looking for professionals who can not only implement philanthropic initiatives that result in public value outcomes for the society but also contribute to building their brand and reputation in the short and long term.

In most cases, the job of a CSR professional is never an isolated one as it overlaps with other departments like communications, marketing, human resources, etc. Hence, one is expected to have a broad range of specialized skills.

The aspirants can start with enrolling in a CSR-related graduate or diploma course. It is good to familiarize yourself with the language related to the field of sustainability. In addition, they can work on the interpersonal and communication skills as they are required to work across departments and are responsible for communicating and collaborating with others.

It is also good to have the capability of systems thinking and connecting the dots given that CSR is cross sectoral and often requires partnerships with other organizations. Being able to see the big picture and explain how your organization fits into the greater cause will be important.

Ultimately, the head and the heart must go hand in hand.

About Ms. Seema Tiwari, Head – CSR, Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd.

For Seema, with over 19 years of extensive work experience from research to execution, setting up India operations of a leading global think tank to heading CSR for a reputed and large Indian business house, it has been an exciting journey. Contribution to policy formulation, diverse stakeholder engagement, a prolific communicator with considerable experience working in business and NGO sector and having operated within India, USA and Latin America, she is thus very well networked and extensively travelled.

Seema Tiwari heads CSR at Godrej & Boyce. In her current role, Seema has defined and led the implementation of the 10 year CSR and Sustainability strategy called the Good & Green and ensuring its alignment with Godrej Group goals, nation’s priorities and the business strategies.

She has guided and mentored 14 G&B businesses in creating and developing innovative and sustainable programs that are share value in nature. In addition, she has devised governance for CSR programs encompassing due diligence, partner selection, putting systems to monitor ongoing programs, 360 degree evaluation, audit and impact assessment. Seema has also been working along with various internal stakeholders – audit, procurement, finance, IT, HR, task forces, as well as external stakeholders for smooth and seamless implementation.

Nayan Mitra: Nayan Mitra comes with a rich mix of diverse professional experience of over sixteen years. She straddles seamlessly between academics, social and corporate sectors. As a Developmental Consultant and Researcher, she works closely with some of the eminent Corporations and not-for profits of India as well as being in their Advisory and Board level capacity. She has conducted several social researches for multi-lateral agencies; the findings of which have become important bases for sustainable action. She has been a resource person in eminent Institutions of higher learning in the areas of CSR and Corporate Governance and has important peer reviewed research publications to her credit in double blind peer reviewed national and international Academic journals and books as well as delivered at key Conferences. Her book, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility in India: Cases and Development after the Legal Mandate’ alongwith co-editor Dr. Rene Schmidpeter is a first book of its kind that charters the development of mandated Indian CSR from a multi-stakeholder perspective, that has recently received the coveted India CSR Author Award, 2017. She spearheads the India CSR Leadership Series. She was a finalist of the prestigious Chevening Gurukul Scholarship for Leadership and Excellence – 2013, as conferred by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of the British Deputy High Commission.

Disclaimer: The thoughts captured in the interview is solely that of the interviewee. The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.

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